NEWS: UK readers may be interested in the Roy Strong lecture at Hestercombe later this month!! His famous garden - The Laskett - will be opening to the public this summer.
I know that most foreign tourists come to Florida for the theme parks and head to Orlando to be photographed with Mickey Mouse, Spiderman or Buzz Lightyear, but I'm afraid that however beautifully kept the gardens are at these mega-tourist attractions, it's just not my scene! So I visited the little-known Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Winter Haven when I took by girlfriend to the airport in Orlando this weekend.
This is the former home of Albin Polasek, the East European sculptor, who came here from Moravia in 1879. He retired to Winter Haven in 1950 after a long and distinguished career in the arts world, both as head of the sculpture department at the Art Institute of Chicago, and as an Associate Member of the National Academy of Design. He designed the house (above) that is now home to the museum, while the sculptures dotted around the garden today are what he called his "children".
Polasek's work is an interesting collection of figures that you'd expect to see in Rome, rather than here in Florida - and they may not be to everyone's taste, but the location alone, with glorious views over the lake, makes this a worthwhile visit if you're in the Orlando area. A far cry from fantasy parades! This is a very different kind of Orlando culture.
This is a certainly an unusual place - quite apart from its location on the shores of Lake Osceola - it's both a museum and home to more than 200 of Albin Polasek's sculptures. But - sad to say - here too the unseasonal spell of cold in Florida has got to many of the plants, although there are enough survivors to give a flavour of how this 3-acre garden would look in fairer weather.
I was also really interested to see that this museum is part of a programme called "Historic Artists' Homes and Studios", which umbrellas some 35 former artists' homes around the US, including Georgia O'Keefe's house and studio in New Mexico. I think I'm beginning to feel the urge to visit New Mexico, so if any readers have good gardens to recommend there, please do let me know. Weather's gone foul again here in Florida, but I'm off to the East coast tomorrow and hoping to visit the Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Viscaya and The Kampong ... so watch this space!